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US, Russia, and Iran: Teammates, after all

US wrestler Obe Blanc (top) and Iran’s Hassan Rahimi compete in an exhibition in New York on May 15.

Associated Press

US wrestler Obe Blanc (top) and Iran’s Hassan Rahimi compete in an exhibition in New York on May 15.

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The United States, Iran, and Russia don’t agree on much, but they found common ground in a joint effort to save wrestling as an Olympic sport. On Wednesday, just a few months after the games’ governing body recommended dropping freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling from the 2020 games, the executive board of International Olympic Committee reversed course, voting to reinstate the ancient sport.

Does the successful campaign foretell a new era of cooperation? Probably not; each country had a selfish reason to keep wrestling. All three were among the top five medal-winning countries in wrestling at the 2012 London Olympics; half of all of Iran’s Olympic medals came in wrestling events. So nobody should expect the rescue of wrestling to lead to a breakthrough on, say, Syria.

Still, the multilateral action fulfills, in a backhanded way, the Olympic mandate to bring countries together through sports. The desire to be part of the Olympics was also strong enough that the international wrestling organization made a series of long-overdue changes, including naming women to its governing body for the first time. (Indeed, the decision in February to drop wrestling from the Olympics might have been intended as a wake-up call.) They are small steps, but show how the Olympic spirit can stir cooperation between countries and change in cultural institutions.

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